Astronomy and Space News - Astro Watch: Cygnus Spacecraft Departs International Space Station

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Sunday, February 10, 2019

Cygnus Spacecraft Departs International Space Station

The U.S. Cygnus space freighter from Northrop Grumman and its prominent cymbal-shaped UltraFlex solar arrays are pictured as the International Space Station orbited 262 miles above the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Argentina. Towards the top center of the photograph is the seven-windowed cupola with its shutters open. Credit: NASA

Northrop Grumman Corporation announced on Friday that its Cygnus spacecraft has departed from the International Space Station after an 81-day stay during the NG-10 mission.

While docked, astronauts unloaded approximately 7,400 pounds of vital supplies and scientific equipment. The Slingshot CubeSat Deployer System, a new commercial customer for Cygnus, was also installed for its inaugural flight on the spacecraft. Slingshot, a flexible platform that can fly hosted payloads and CubeSats, further demonstrates the ability of Cygnus to host multiple secondary payloads as part of a single mission. Cygnus departed from the International Space Station at 11:16 a.m. EST loaded with more than 2,500 kilograms (5,500 pounds) of disposal cargo.

The S.S. John Young now begins the second half of its mission by repositioning above the station to deploy two CubeSats via the NanoRacks External Cygnus Deployer and two CubeSats from the Slingshot CubeSat Deployer. Cygnus will then lower its orbit below the station for another NanoRacks deployment of one CubeSat. This specific satellite deployment operation marks the first dual altitude deployment for Cygnus, further demonstrating the spacecraft’s capabilities beyond cargo delivery and removal. During its secondary mission, the spacecraft will also operate a commercial powered payload mounted in the Slingshot launch system as another new customer, UbiquitiLink, Inc. UbiqutiLink’s telecommunications payload antenna will test the ability to send and receive messages in areas without ground-based connectivity. 

“NG-10 continues to highlight Northrop Grumman’s ability to meet the needs of multiple customers throughout one mission to the International Space Station,” said Frank DeMauro, vice president and general manager, space systems, Northrop Grumman. “During each trip to the station, Cygnus continues to demonstrate additional capabilities as we partner with new commercial customers. These new relationships will create opportunities for the International Space Station to expand its role as a unique platform for ground-breaking science.”

The two NanoRacks CubeSats to be deployed above the station are the Cost-effective High E-Frequency Satellite (CHEFSat) and MYSat-1. CHEFSat tests and prepares consumer communications technology for use in space. MYSat-1 marks the first satellite developed by Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE). MYSat-1 was developed as part of Khalifa’s Space Systems and Technology Concentration, a joint program established in 2015 in collaboration with UAE-based satellite operator Al Yah Satellite Communications Company (Yahsat) and Northrop Grumman. Engineers from both companies helped develop the initial curriculum for the concentration, and provided guidance and mentorship during the design and build phases of the MYSat-1 satellite.

Once the S.S. John Young moves below the International Space Station, KickSat-2, a collaborative CubeSat from NASA Ames Research Center and Stanford University, will be deployed via the NanoRacks Deployer.

The next Cygnus launch, known as the NG-11 mission, will be Northrop Grumman’s final launch under the CRS-1 contract and is currently scheduled for spring. During this mission, Cygnus will demonstrate its unique capability to fly solo through space for an extended duration after departing from the station. This innovation is another example of Cygnus’s potential to double as a free-flying laboratory for science experiments, technology demonstrations and as a CubeSat launch platform. These enhancements will build on the positive impact of the International Space Station to develop a new economy in low Earth orbit.

The NG-10 mission began Nov. 17, 2018, when Cygnus launched aboard a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The mission is expected to end on Feb. 25, at approximately 3:30 a.m. EST when Cygnus will execute a safe, destructive reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.

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